Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Christchurch (2001, 2010)

A week ago Christchurch, New Zealand, was hit by the second massive earthquake in under six months. By now most people have had a look at the news coverage, which at this point it mostly about the rising count of the dead and the tireless efforts, both by locals and from international contributors, to sort out the mess and help people start getting on with their lives.

I'm fortunate not to have had any family or friends in Christchurch at the time of the quake. Still I'm sending out my best wishes and hopes for those who were affected by this (including friends of friends).

Above: One of Christchurch's little throwbacks to the "Old Country"--an Avon River with little boats ready for punting, close to the downtown centre.

I couldn't watch the videos, because it was like seeing my worst childhood nightmare come true. I still remember the Civil Defense pamphlets and the earthquake drills in school (get under the desk, get under the doorway). Kiwis know they walk on unstable ground--we know what we live with, but it's still a terrible shock when this happens (not for 80 years has New Zealand seen this kind of damage). I remember as a child waking in the middle of the night to the steady vibration of tremors and waiting to see if it would stop; I was lucky and it always did.

Above: Inside at the Botanical Gardens. Aside for the obvious and awful loss of human lives, I shudder to think what irreparable damage may have been done to structures like these and to the overall cultural infrastructure of the city, which will probably be the last thing to regenerate. So many historic buildings, which in New Zealand is actually a pretty rare thing in an urban area.

City centre, Cathedral Square. I expect the building you see here is no longer standing.

Above: Christchurch's iconic Cathedral in the centre of downtown. The spire at left crumbled and collapsed during the earthquake. Rescuers have been unable to enter the Cathedral so far, given the instability of the walls, but they believe about 20 people to have been inside when the spire came down. This is the most recognisable building in the city, so its collapse has a symbolic weight beyond the physical damage.

Above: A bit of a classic sight--the Wizard of New Zealand in Cathedral Square (I took this in January, 2001). He survived the earthquake and is now leaving Christchurch, since his public stage has been destroyed.

Above: Dandelion fountains near City Hall. For some reason these always remind me of my childhood in the 1980s, though I don't recall whether we had any the same in the area where I grew up. I had seen many pictures of them though, and I was pleased to take photos of my own (this was February, 2010).

Arts centre, across from the Canterbury Museum (February, 2010). Not much hope that these old buildings have survived.

I remember going into this quad to look around while waiting to meet up with a friend by the Botanical Gardens across the street. A man was letting his little son run around the place. His son, who was still quite young (under five I think), had developmental problems--possibly Down's Syndrome, I can't quite recall. We got into a discussion about politics, class, education and funding of the school system; I remember asking him about the decile rankings of schools. It was surprisingly easy conversation between two people who'd only met five minutes before. I remember thinking how much I liked the frankness and friendliness of the people and the place--not just Christchurch but the whole country--it was one small memorable moment among many in that action-packed trip, but it stood out.

I hope he and his family are OK.

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